Tampa Bay Rays 2024 Season Preview

Will this finally be the year people stop sleeping on the Rays? Let's preview what their roster should look like and why you should buy in.

Yandy Diaz and Randy Arozarena
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 11: Randy Arozarena #56 of the Tampa Bay Rays is congratulated by Yandy Diaz #2 after hitting a solo home run against the Houston Astros during the fourth inning in game one of the American League Championship Series at PETCO Park on October 11, 2020 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

After coming out of the gates with a 13-0 start to the 2023 season, you’d think the Tampa Bay Rays were already punching their ticket to the World Series. The club was firing on all cylinders and looked to be an absolute beast to start the year.

A month of July in which they went just 8-16 opened the door for the Orioles to catch up in the division standings. Ultimately, the O’s gained the lead in the AL East and never gave it back up. The Rays finished second with a 99-63 record, only to be swept out of the AL Wild Card Series by the eventual champs, the Rangers.

The Rays have been and always will be a massively underrated team. One of the very best at player development, this organization always finds a way to churn out top-tier homegrown talent.

The 2024 campaign is set up to be the same story. Other teams in the division have gone out and significantly upgraded their roster, but the Rays seem to be destined for another year of doing more with less. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that though, as they always find a way to make that work.

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How Did the Rays Address Offseason Needs?

Fortunately, there weren’t that many spots on their roster in desperate need of upgrade.

On the free agent front, the Rays went out and signed utilityman Amed Rosario to an insanely cheap one-year, $1.5M contract. He’s the only major offensive signing of the offseason.

Phil Maton was the only free agent acquisition on the pitching side. He’s a well-traveled but well-respected relief pitching veteran who will be a major asset for the club.

The largest moves of the winter came in trades, which has always been the Rays’ preferred method of acquisitions.

Glasnow to the Dodgers

Tyler Glasnow was sent packing from Tampa to L.A. in exchange for a package of promising players. This is the biggest move made by the Rays all offseason long, and likely has the best long-term implications for the organization.

Ryan Pepiot, a right-handed starter, has immense potential and will immediately slot into the Rays’ rotation. Outfielder Jonny DeLuca is another promising player but he’s expected to start the year on the injured list. Rays fans will like what they see from him once he’s healthy.

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That’s pretty much it. Jacob Waguespack was signed to a minor league contract but he’s already had his contract selected and will be a part of the Opening Day bullpen.

A Pair of January Swaps

On Jan. 5, the Rays made two separate moves within an hour of each other. Andrew Kittredge was shipped to the Cardinals in exchange for outfielder Richie Palacios, who the Rays really like and expect to turn into a star-caliber player.

Outfielder Luke Raley was moved to the Mariners in exchange for slick-fielding shortstop Jose Caballero. He’s expected to slot right in as the Rays’ starting shortstop and has the weight of sky-high expectations on his shoulders.

The Wander Franco Problem

Caballero is going to be filling the shoes of a player that was supposed to be the Rays’ new Evan Longoria, the new face of the franchise. Instead, Wander Franco is facing such severe allegations that he may never play another game in the major leagues.

We’re not here to analyze what criminal charges Franco is facing. It’s a sensitive subject and not worth the headache of diving into and explaining in detail. What we can do, however, is dive into what his absence is going to mean for the Rays and how badly it hurts them that he’s removed himself from the equation.

Franco, 23, was signed to a gigantic 11-year, $182M extension (with a $25M team option for a 12th season) prior to the 2022 campaign. This deal is the largest ever for a player with less than one year of big league service time.

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The Rays have always been a team with bottom-of-the-barrel payroll, so having this albatross of a contract sitting on their budget is a major eyesore.

There’s sure to be a major black hole in the lineup now that Franco’s production is missing. He hits home runs, he steals bases, he gets on base a ton and he plays Gold Glove-caliber defense at shortstop. Speaking strictly from a baseball perspective, this one hurts the Rays in more ways than one.

Now the hope is that Caballero, who is much more of a glove-first player, and Rosario, a light-hitting utilityman in his own right, can somehow match this production. There weren’t many other moves made this offseason that would properly offset the loss of what Franco brings to the field.

But what do you do? Time to move on.

2024 Rays Projected Starting Lineup

Lineup vs. RHPDepth Pieces
1. 1B Yandy DiazJunior Caminero (INF)
2. 2B Brandon Lowe/Amed Rosario vs. LHPOsleivis Basabe (INF)
3. LF Randy ArozarenaFrancisco Mejia (C, non 40-man)
4. 3B Isaac ParedesYu Chang (INF, non 40-man)
5. DH Harold RamirezJake Mangum (OF, non 40-man)
6. RF Richie PalaciosKameron Misner (OF, non 40-man)
7. CF Jose SiriSS Taylor Walls*
8. SS Jose CaballeroINF Jonathan Aranda*
9. C Rene PintoOF Jonny DeLuca*
* = InjuredOF Josh Lowe*

Last year, the Rays offense was stellar. We’re talking about a unit that ranked 3rd in batting average, 4th in OPS, 4th in fWAR, 4th in stolen bases and 6th in home runs. There’s very little they don’t do well, and that’s going to be the case in 2024, too.

Randy Arozarena is hands down the leader of this team. He raised his walk rate, lowered his strikeout rate and continued to mash; hitting 23 home runs with 80 RBI and a 120 OPS+.

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Randy Land” is a pair of section of seats at Tropicana Field in honor of Arozarena. Every Friday during regular season home games, fans get a Randy t-shirt and a chance at winning a free drink if he hits a home run that evening. He makes Tampa Bay baseball fun.

Yandy Diaz, Just Baseball’s No. 5 first basemen heading into 2024 and No. 4 position player in the AL East, took a contract extension and elevated his game to new heights. Diaz, 32, set career-highs in nearly every statistical category and finished sixth in AL MVP voting because of it.

Pairing with Arozarena to give the Rays a lethal duo, Diaz hit 22 home runs and drove in 78 while leading the AL with a .330 batting average. His 158 OPS+ puts him a whopping 58% above league-average at the dish and he’s expected to continue to be an offensive force in 2024.

Isaac Paredes is far from a Statcast darling, but he still found a way to become one of the top offensive third basemen in the game last year. He hit 31 homers and came within two RBI of 100, experiencing one hell of an offensive breakout.

29-year-old Harold Ramirez is another example of a player that’s turned his career around since coming over to the Rays. He’s had an OPS+ north of 100 in each of the past two seasons and set career-highs in home runs, runs scored and runs driven in last year. He doesn’t play defense particularly well, so he’ll be a DH on most nights, but Ramirez’s bat is an important piece to this puzzle.

One of the only real platoon situations in the lineup will be at second base. Brandon Lowe, a left-handed hitter, has a 75 career OPS+ against southpaws while Rosario, a right-handed bat, has a 127 OPS+. Other than that, the lineup should look largely the same on most nights this season.

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Projected Bench

There’s a bit of uncertainty surrounding the Rays’ Opening Day bench situation, but Rosario is absolutely going to earn one of the spots.

Beyond that? Unclear. There needs to be one more catcher added to the active and 40-man rosters, but Francisco Mejia and Rob Brantly have both already been informed they’re not making the roster. That seems to leave the door open for Alex Jackson, a career .141 hitter in 66 big league games, to pair with Rene Pinto behind the dish.

With uber-prospect Junior Caminero missing out on an Opening Day spot, infielders Curtis Mead and Austin Shenton have clearer paths to spots on the bench.

Mead, Just Baseball’s No. 3 prospect in the Rays system, can play all around the infield and has shown that he’s ready for a role in the big leagues. The Australian hit .287 with an .879 OPS across 65 minor league games last year and looked decent in a 24-game showing in the big leagues, too.

Shenton, 26, has a ton of pop in his bat and was an incredible run-producer in the minors last year. The corner infielder hit 45 doubles and 29 home runs with 99 RBI, 94 walks and had an astounding 1.006 OPS in 134 games. Like Mead, he’s ready.

Position Player Injuries

Taylor Walls, who was widely expected to get the starting shortstop gig in Franco’s absence, is likely out until late April/early May. He underwent hip surgery in Oct. of last year. The acquisition of Caballero was partly to replace Franco and partly to give the Rays a stopgap option until Walls returns.

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Josh Lowe (oblique) and Jonny DeLuca (broken right hand) are both missing Opening Day. The former is going to be a major part of this lineup once he returns, and his presence will be sorely missed while he recovers. If anything, his absence offers Palacios a chance to show what he’s made of, as he is expected to get the majority of the playing time in right field.

The latter will be out 4-6 weeks per Marc Topkin. He was penciled in for an Opening Day bench spot, but is now going to start the year on the shelf.

Also from Topkin, utilityman Jonathan Aranda is sidelined with a broken right ring finger. He will miss 4-6 weeks as well.

2024 Rays Projected Starting Rotation

Rays Projected RotationDepth Pieces
1. RHP Zach EflinLHP Jacob Lopez
2. RHP Aaron CivaleRHP Jake Odorizzi (non 40-man)
3. RHP Zack LittellRHP Drew Rasmussen*
4. RHP Ryan PepiotRHP Shane Baz*
5. LHP Tyler AlexanderRHP Taj Bradley*
LHP Jeffrey Springs*
LHP Shane McClanahan*
* = Injured

Last year, Rays starters were amongst the best in the league. They struck out more batters per nine innings than any other rotation, ranked fifth in ERA and fourth in walks per nine innings. The removal of Glasnow will complicate things a bit this year, though, as will the seemingly endless amounts of injuries they’ve ran into.

We’ll get into the injuries in a bit. For now, let’s focus on who’s making this Opening Day rotation.

Zach Eflin, proud owner of the largest free agent contract in Rays history, led the AL in wins last year (16) and will be the staff ace to open 2024. The right-hander posted a career-best 119 ERA+ in 31 starts and has been solid as a rock.

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Aaron Civale, a trade deadline acquisition, struggled in a 10-start showing for the Rays in the second half of last season. However, he was off to a red-hot start for the Guardians pre-trade and is on the very best team in the game at developing pitching. Even if the numbers weren’t there last year, he’ll be just fine.

Zack Littell is one of the more interesting stories in baseball. A career reliever, Littell randomly became a starting pitcher last year and excelled. He’s been bounced around waivers seemingly a hundred times over the course of his career but has now found a long-term home in Tampa. He had a 3.41 ERA in 14 starts for the Rays, highlighted by an 8-inning start against the Mariners in September.

Pepiot, 26, has filthy stuff and is an obvious breakout candidate for the Rays. Prior to his being traded from the Dodgers, he had a 2.76 ERA across 17 outings (10 starts). He’ll be the club’s No. 4 starter to begin the year, but he’s got the potential to be a top-of-the-rotation arm in a year or two’s time.

With a full rotation of pitchers on the injured list, left-hander Tyler Alexander seems to be penciled in for the final spot in the starting-five. Alexander, 29, has five decent-but-not-great seasons in the big leagues under his belt and will be the first player sent packing once arms begin to return from the IL.

Pitcher Injuries

When I mentioned that there was a full rotation’s worth of injured pitchers, I wasn’t joking. There are five of the Rays’ top starters on the shelf as of right now.

Shane Baz (Sept. 2022), Shane McClanahan (Aug. 2023) and Jeffrey Springs (Apr. 2023) all are recovering from Tommy John surgeries.

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The latest updates on Baz are that he’s targeting a first-half return in the upcoming season. He began facing live hitters earlier this month, so the recovery process is already well underway. Of all injured pitchers, Baz is the closest to a return.

McClanahan was placed on the Rays’ 60-day IL before spring training camp even opened. There’s next to no chance that we even see him take the mound this year, but it’s not impossible.

Springs is looking at a return around the trade deadline. Prior to his surgery, he was emerging as one of the top stories of the year. He had a 2.46 ERA in 2022 and then was sporting an 0.56 ERA pre-injury last year. It’ll be interesting to see what he looks like when he comes back, because his ascension from bad reliever to top-shelf starter is fascinating.

Then there’s a pair of right-handers in Drew Rasmussen and Taj Bradley. Rasmussen made a dominant start against the Yankees last May (seven shutout innings) and was promptly shut down with a right flexor strain. He is not expected to return until late this year, if at all. Otherwise, he’ll be good to go for the 2025 campaign.

Bradley is a candidate to return by May. He’s dealing with a right pectoral strain that will allow him to dodge a 60-day stint, unlike his rotation counterparts, but he’s not going to break camp with the squad.

2024 Rays Projected Bullpen

Rays Projected BullpenDepth Pieces
RHP Pete FairbanksRHP Manuel Rodriguez
RHP Jason AdamRHP Kevin Kelly
RHP Phil MatonRHP Colby White
RHP Shawn ArmstrongRHP Erasmo Ramirez (non 40-man)
RHP Chris DevenskiRHP Burch Smith (non 40-man)
RHP Jacob WaguespackRHP Edwin Uceta (non 40-man)
LHP Colin PocheRHP Naoyuki Uwasawa (non 40-man)
LHP Garrett CleavingerLHP Brendan McKay (non 40-man)

The Rays’ bullpen finished 18th in strikeouts per nine innings last year, 12th in ERA and had the sixth-most blown saves. Aside from the catcher position, this was one of the spots most in need of an upgrade this offseason.

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As previously mentioned, the addition of Maton is a solid one. He’s coming off three straight seasons of 60+ outings and had easily the best year of his career in 2023. Pitching out of the Astros’ bullpen, the right-hander had a 141 ERA+ and was one of the more oft-used options. He will fill the same role for the Rays.

Pete Fairbanks is returning as the Rays’ closer for the second straight year. He had a 2.58 ERA with 25 saves last year, striking out 13.5 batters per nine and allowing just three home runs all year. He’s got a fastball that ranked in the 98th percentile in Velo last year and he pairs it with one of the best sliders in all of baseball. It seems like the 30-year-old is only just beginning his run of dominance at the back of the Rays’ bullpen.

32-year-old Jason Adam is yet another example of a player whose career took off after joining the Rays. The right-hander has a 2.22 ERA and 176 ERA in 123 outings over the past two years for Tampa Bay. He’s effectively the club’s backup closer and is a virtual lock for 60+ appearances in 2024.

The other name to know in this ‘pen is left-hander Colin Poche, who has bounced back nicely from a Tommy John surgery that caused him to miss two full years. Post-surgery, he’s made 131 appearances with a 3.09 ERA and 3.93 FIP. Poche does a great job of keeping the ball in the park and will be yet another weapon for the Rays in 2024. Last year, he won 12 games as a relief pitcher, a crazy but also not that important stat that felt worth mentioning.

Lower on the relief pitching depth chart, Shawn Armstrong and Chris Devenski will also play important roles this year. Armstrong had a 1.38 ERA in 39 outings last year while Devenski, a former All-Star, made it into the most games he’s been in since all the way back in 2019. The right-handers aren’t set for high-leverage usage, but they will bridge the gap nicely between starters and the dominant back-end arms in the ‘pen.

SANTO DOMINGO, DR – MARCH 10: Randy Arozarena #56 of the Tampa Bay Rays reacts after hitting a single in the first inning during the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox at Estadio Quisqueya on Sunday, March 10, 2024 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. (Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Closing Thoughts

FanGraphs gives the Rays a 59.5% chance of making the playoffs this year and sees them finishing second in the AL East. As usual, they’re the underdogs.

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Once some of the position players and pitchers begin making their returns from the injured list, a strong team is only going to get stronger. It’s wild to think about how solid this squad will be even without around half of their regular producers.

Armed with one of the strongest offenses in the league, it’s about time we stop underestimating this organization and what they can do. Death, taxes and the Tampa Bay Rays finding a way to play meaningful October baseball are all that’s truly guaranteed in life.